OK teachers of emergent bilinguals (and all teachers)! This week, we are going to dive deep into subjects and predicates, because together they create a sentence, and form the basis of reading comprehension!
In my previous post, I defined for you what syntax is, what Close Reading is, and the 3 steps teachers can implement to boost reading comprehension:
- develop more background knowledge/schema around the topic of the text;
- target and pre-teach key vocabulary using pictures;
- take sentences apart syntactically around the who/what? (subject) and the is what/does what? (predicate) of sentences.
what are subjects and predicates?
Every sentence is a grammatical message that consists of a relationship between two elements: a subject and a predicate. The subject, a noun phrase (I’m calling it a phrase because it often consists of more than just one word), tells the reader who? or what? the sentence is about – the agent of the message.
The predicate, a verb phrase, tells the reader the is what? of the agent, linking the agent to a description, or adjective, like The student (agent) is smart (predicate). Other common ‘linking’ verbs are have, look, seem, turn, and become.
The predicate can also tell the reader the does what? or the action of the agent, for example The student (agent) studies English (predicate).
Subjects and predicates form the basis of reading comprehension!
Now you try: Identify the subject and predicate of the following sentences:
- A quadrilateral has four sides.
- George Washington was the first president of the United States.
- The main character risked her life.
That’s right! The subjects are a quadrilateral, George Washington, and the main character. The predicates are has four sides, was the first president of the United States, risked her life. Notice two things: A subject can be a noun phrase consisting of an article (the) and a noun (quadrilateral) or, it can have additional words or elements, in this case an adjective the main character. It is very important for students to recognize that the subject is the entire phrase The main character.
A predicate is made up of the verb and everything that comes after the verb, because it’s part of the verb’s entire phrase. Verbs can be linking words like the verb be: is/was, are/were – and have – has/have/had – or action words like the verb risked.
Let’s practice how we would help students take apart these sentences using Wh-questions.
1. A quadrilateral has four sides. “What is our sentence about? That’s right, the quadrilateral. And what does the quadrilateral have? Four sides. The word have is a verb that helps us link quadrilateral to the has information in the sentence.”
2. George Washington was the first president of the United States. “Who or what is our sentence about? That’s right, George Washington. Who was he? The first president of the United States. In this sentence, the word was is linking George Washington to the who? information about him in the sentence.”
3. The main character risked her life. “Who or what is our sentence about? That’s right, the main character. The word main is a word that gives the reader a description of the character (which?). What did the main character do? Risked her life. Our verb risk is telling us the action that she did. And what did she risk? That’s right, her life.”
analyzing your text
When reading a text out loud with students, you won’t have time to get into this level of detail with every sentence, so you should analyze your passage and decide which sentences might be especially difficult for students, so you can spend time breaking them down into subject and predicate. Let’s look at this passage from a 5th grade ELA novel, Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan.
Skim through and identify which sentence or sentences you would want to spend time on: they should be important and central to the understanding of the passage.
The August sun promised a dry afternoon in Aguascalientes, Mexico. Everyone who lived and worked on El Rancho de las Rosas was gathered at the edge of the field: Esperanza’s family, the house servants in their long white aprons, the vaqueros already sitting on their horses ready to ride out to the cattle, and fifty or sixty campesinos, straw hats in their hands, holding their own knives ready. They were covered top to bottom, in long-sleeved shirts, baggy pants tied at the ankles with string, and bandanas wrapped around their foreheads and necks to protect them from the sun, dust, and spiders. Esperanza, on the other hand, wore a light silk dress that stopped above her summer boots, and no hat. On top of her head a wide satin ribbon was tied in a big bow, the tails trailing in her long black hair.
There are two sentences here that I think students need to break down for comprehension:
Everyone who lived and worked on El Rancho de las Rosas was gathered at the edge of the field.
In this sentence, we have a complex subject everyone who lived and worked on El Rancho de las Rosas. You could break down this subject by itself for students: everyone who did what? where? Once students establish the who? we can focus on the was what? – was gathered at the edge of the field. Now students can paraphrase this long, complex sentence in their own words: ‘Everyone on the ranch were gathered together, or standing together.’ In this way, we can help students achieve a literal comprehension of the text before we move on to analysis.
The second sentence is actually not an independent sentence, but rather a series of phrases. However, they are essential to the meaning of the passage.
and fifty or sixty campesinos, straw hats in their hands, holding their own knives ready.
First, we want students to understand that the everyone in everyone was gathered is listed after the colon. Next, we want to break apart the campesino series of phrases: who else was gathered? What were they doing? They were holding their own knives ready.
By identifying subjects and predicates, students learn how to break down complex sentences and gain literal meaning of the text, forming the basis of reading comprehension!
Now, that students have analyzed the setting of the scene, we can begin analyzing! Why was everyone gathered? Why were the campesinos holding their knives ready? Because they were about to harvest the grapes!!
Watch me model this for you here! Questions or comments? Let me know down below and stay tuned for more.